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Monday, November 7, 2011 - 12:00pm

Restaurants Face Surprise Probes

Starting this month, the U.S. Department of Labor is stepping up enforcement of labor laws in Georgia.

The effort is primarily focused on restaurants, and federal labor officials will be visiting establishments in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina looking for violations of minimum-wage, overtime and child-labor laws.

“The restaurant industry has a high rate of violations and also the employees who are employed by the restaurant industry are what we consider to be vulnerable workers,” said Kim Chu, assistant district director in the department’s Georgia office.

The workers are vulnerable, Chu said, because they usually make minimum wage and have low income.

Officials said the stepped-up enforcement is also about leveling the playing field.

“Someone who’s not paying the minimum wage makes it harder for the business to survive who’s actually paying the minimum wage or complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act,” said Don Cirino, the southeast region’s planning director. “So that’s another focus of the initiative here.”

Cirino said they don’t know how many businesses they will inspect yet.

“I would say if we went in and we did a few [inspections] and we were to find significant violations, that would more than likely precipitate more compliance action taking place,” Cirino said.

This is the second year the Labor Department has focused on the restaurant industry in the southeast.

The campaign will last for about six months.